I wanted to take the opportunity to share this video clip from MindBodyGreen of an Australian interview with the lovely and talented Christina Hendricks.
I don’t really know where to begin. I’m not going to berate the interviewer, nor am I going to provide a play-by-play of the interview. For starters, I’m going to ask the rhetorical question we’re likely all thinking…where did the “full figured” comment even come from?
It had nothing to do with the event Hendricks was being interviewed about, nor did it have any prevalence to her being in Australia at all. I can just see it in her eyes, her stunning, perfectly beautiful, deep and pensive eyes, how deep that question cut. How deep it likely cuts every time she hears it. I feel injured on her behalf.
As women, we’ve probably all had moments where we’ve been asked something or had something said to us, regarding our own bodies, that felt wildly inappropriate and completely hurtful. More often than not, the injuring comment was not intentional; the even more unfortunate times are when it was intentional. Regardless of intent, the topic seems obviously sensitive and yet so damn often people go there. As though it’s their right, as though stating an observation about an automobile rather than a sentient being.
I’m reminded of an experience I had when I was living abroad. It’s different than Hendricks’ interview moment, but the consequential emotions are likely the same. It was 2009 and I lived in Florence, Italy. I was 20, I was blissfully happy, and for one of the only times in my life I was not actively working out or giving many thoughts to my diet. I was actually losing weight living in Italy where moderation is almost as abundant as walking. A man, a perfect stranger mind you, came up to me in a club. We’d been out on the floor droppin’ it like it was hot (and, let me tell you, it was hot) and were filing off the dance floor as the club lights came on signaling closing time. The man clutched at my arm, causing me to turn around. He was probably close to forty, African-American, unattractive (I feel okay making this observation, you’ll understand once I finish my story).
“You looked good out there,” he said to me with a creepy smile. I tossed back my shoulder length blonde hair, “Thanks!” I went to turn away but he held onto my arm.
“You look good, but you could, you know…look better…”
This got my attention.
“Pardon?” I turned to face him.
“I’m just saying you look good, really good, but don’t stop trying. You could look even better. You could be in that gym working harder and then man…you’d look really good.”
*Sidenote: It’s unsafe to say such a thing to any woman, much less a recovered anorexic.
I was floored. As in my feet were stuck, rooted to sticky floor of that Italian nightclub. My mouth was literally hanging open, which he took as a cue to keep talking. I turned to go, utterly beside myself, when he grabbed my arm again.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
At this point I did my best impersonation of a tornado to date. I spun around so fast, releasing a guttural growl (I kid you not), flinging my arm out of his grip, causing gymnastics of his facial expression and (I can’t decide between the words spit and hissed, they’re equally appropriate in describing how I delivered this next line) spit/hissed at him,
“Dont you fucking touch me.”
It was his turn to look floored. I also shoved him hard in the chest because he was right up on me when he grabbed my arm for that last time. Everyone near us was certain he’d pinched my butt or something and I let them believe it. I let nearby, strapping Italian men leap to my aide, distancing the poor damsel in distress from the nasty creep fest who’d made her scream. I was boiling. I was seething. I’d have probably hit him in the face (note: I’ve never hit anyone in the face, nor does it agree with my principles – that’s how infuriated I was) had I not been “rescued” from his presence.
It is, to this day, likely the single most “zero to sixty” experience of getting emotionally torn apart that I’ve ever experienced.
I didn’t get it over it, nor did I tell the full story to my flatmates. I just couldn’t. I was ashamed. I had let some stupid, pock-faced man in a nightclub take my pride, stomp on it, and then hand it back to me saying, “It was pretty good before, though.”
Needless to say, this episode began a slightly downward spiral body image wise. Though I buried the experience in my subconscious, I’m certain it had something to do with the weight loss and body image obsession I underwent upon returning to the states. I now believe I displaced that experience onto the new relationship I had just founded in Europe, and took home to continue for the next three years, always feeling as though he thought I “looked good but could look better.” Oh, how deep it runs…
So I can imagine what that glint of hurt in Christina Hendricks’ eyes was really saying. She artfully moved along, but the pit of my stomach was heavy for her. I guess the more important question, rather than asking why people are so fixated on women’s bodies (because we can’t control them, we can only control us), is to ask why we give away our power so quickly? Hendricks did not give away her power, and for that (among many other reasons), I applaud her. I did give up my power, in that Florentine nightclub to some nameless scumbag with a loud mouth.
How do we protect ourselves, our precious Selves, from the vulgarity, inelegance, insensitivity and ignorance that roams free out in the world?
My first recommendation is…can any of you guess it? Yep, you got it: practice yoga.
A dedicated yoga practice builds immeasurable self-awareness and an appreciation within the body that has absolutely nothing to do with one’s exterior. I’m not telling you that you stop caring what you look like, that’s definitely not the case. But yoga moves you towards a state where you can control the mind. It helps you, if you suffer from body image issues (which, let’s face it, 99.9% of us in today’s society do), protect the mind, and therefore the body, from outside influence. You become more adept at selecting what you allow to influence you.
Simply starting up at a yoga studio brimming with lululemon clad yoga bodies, expecting to miraculously heal your wounded body image isn’t going to be your best medicine! The real work is done inside, it’s less about asana and more about pranayama, meditation, solitude, turning inward. The yoga that connects you with your inner Self is done mostly with the eyes closed, mostly hand-in-hand with the breath, mostly with a quiet mind.
My second recommendation is to shelter yourself from the media. I gave up “trash magazines” (like InTouch, OK!, etc.) as a teenager after being hopelessly addicted to them and using them to build the parameters of my anorexia. I flipped through issues with my best friend, who was far from anorexic, practically taking notes on Mary-Kate Olsen’s soy lattes, Nicole Richie’s lunch of Fiji Water and black coffee, the bones protruding from these successfully thin girls making me a semi-permanent fixture at Starbucks, certain a soy latte qualified as lunch. I gave up those magazines for two reasons:
One, my self-esteem.
Two, respect for and preservation of the lives, privacy, safety and humanity of these people we deem “celebrities.” It’s simply disgusting and unfair how they’re exploited…their divorces, their eating disorders, their arrests, their successes and failures…it’s like going to work and never getting to leave, expecting human beings to be on display 24/7. Paparazzi ought to be banned, I don’t care how much money celebrities make, they don’t owe us anything. We choose to buy their music, clothes, films, etc. that gives society no right to treat them as fish in a glass bowl.
Christina Hendricks is no different. The size of her hips, breasts, eyes, feet, what-have-you, have no business in a professional interview unless brought up by her. Again, we can’t control others and the ignorance or insensitivity they might display at any given time. We can only control our own minds and reactions.
So, what can we do to protect ourselves? Yoga is a great start, as is the practice of not saturating oneself in triggering images (perhaps you don’t watch the Victoria’s Secret fashion show or flip through gossip magazines if you find them triggering, disrespectful or negative). Taking excellent care of oneself with a healthy diet, satisfying physical activity, daily self-assuring mental talk, and a positive home environment are imperative to creating a safe space within the mind.
A last, and golden, suggestion is this:
Be as kind to yourself as you are to one of your dearest loved ones. Extend that kindness to strangers; mentally stop the judging. Actively refuse to judge your own Self, and actively refuse to judge the girl on the yoga mat next to you, or in the seat beside you on the bus, or or or…just stop it. 66 days forms a habit. Stop the judging. Stop placing emphasis on physical beauty and maybe, in time, we can change the way our modern society operates. If we can’t, then at least we’ve created a safe harbor of non-judgement to take our sacred ship when the waters get rough.